Today is Mary’s day — Mary the bold teenager, the peasant, the Virgin, the God-bearer.
What delights me again and again about the Incarnation is that it is absolutely ridiculous, utterly absurd, and inevitably and undeniably human and fleshy and messy. It begins with the Annunciation, which is like the Queen of England arriving by herself in the middle of the night to a tin-roofed shack in a Tijuana shantytown to tell a terrified sixteen-year old indigenous girl that she’ll soon be pregnant with the crown prince of England. That is, if Maria consents. . . . she does, which is even more spectacular. (Don’t ask me how the Queen learned Spanish.)
Maria, tipped off by the queen that her aged aunty has been pregnant for the past six months takes off to visit her, hopefully after first letting her parents know she was leaving. When Maria arrives in Lake Elsinore four days later after walking ninety miles by herself (hopefully the morning sickness hadn’t yet begun) — Isabel opens the door and her canteloupe-sized, 24-week fetus starts cartwheeling inside the womb. Maria is wondering, of course, if perhaps the Queen’s visit hadn’t been as real as it had seemed. But instead, Isabel exclaims poetically and passionately, “Carajo! Que te pasó? Estás embarazada con el Hijo de Dios! Y cómo llegaste aquí? De pie?! Estás loca?” Which, loosely translated, might be: “Are you nuts?! You just walked ninety miles while the Divine Embryo is trying to implant in your womb!”
This, of course, makes Maria cry, which makes Isabel cry. As Maria’s world turns upside down, she spends the next three months crying, eating, sleeping, and making food for Zacarias, the mute Episcopal priest sulking in the bedroom, who didn’t believe the queen when she came to visit him at church some months back.
Does this make any sense to you? Surely it doesn’t. Because it’s ludicrous. It could only have been planned by One who had either no sense whatsoever of social propriety and respectability, or cared not the least for such social conventions. Indeed, the plan seems designed to upset the powerful and comfort the comfortless, which, as anyone could foresee, was going to cause some problems. But God apparently didn’t mind getting God’s person dirty, beginning with a straw-filled manger.
Who is this God who insists on being with us? Doesn’t God know that we have royally screwed up this place? We spent 15 minutes in staff meeting this week watching and discussing a Department of Homeland Security video about what to do if an active shooter is on the loose in the workplace — the new catchphrase, by the way, is “run, hide, fight” — and I was surprised to find myself thinking that this was an appropriate use of our time. But lest we waste our time dissuading God that it might be better to just give up on the whole human experiment and start over somewhere else, may I remind us that this teenaged, indigenous Mary has already said “yes” to an impossible invitation from above, has already visited a pregnant Elizabeth, has already given birth to the Savior of the world. That has happened and that is why we are here, because of that girl’s breathtaking faith. Thank you, Mary —
And so we are left with this confounding reality: our Savior, our Savior, was born to a disposable girl living in a cave in a corner of a small land occupied by a great superpower. It forces one to decide whether this God we worship is crazy, or whether the world’s powers that be are the crazy ones.
This God we worship tells us that all people are worthy of God’s love. The powers that be would prefer to qualify that statement a bit.
This God we worship tells us that when we sin and we ask for forgiveness we are forgiven. The powers that be would prefer to remind us of our guilt again and again so that we might try to purchase our way back into social worthiness.
This God we worship tells us that the poor, the unauthorized immigrants, the sex workers, the Syrian refugees, even Muslims in general deserve care, compassion, respect, just treatment, and human dignity. The powers that be are terrified of a world they cannot control and do not understand, terrified of feeling vulnerable, as vulnerable as the poor, the unauthorized immigrants, the sex workers, the Syrian refugees, perhaps even Muslims in general (or at least in America) — as vulnerable as they feel every single day.
I do not feel vulnerable very often, because I live a very privileged life. But many, many people in this community feel vulnerable every day. You may be one of them. Our Savior was one of them. Part of the church’s job is to help put us in relationship with those who feel vulnerable, so that we may come to know more deeply the life of Christ — which is the life of God — through the lives of our fellow humans. So that we may practice loving those different than us.
Maybe that’s what God was getting at with this crazy plan.
Mary was no special person, but rather a forgotten one, indeed. Yet her breathtaking faith conceived the beginning to the greatest expression of God’s love this world has ever known. Naturally, over the millennia that followed we Christians have since treated her as royalty, as our queen. But to honor her as a queen means to affirm a world that has been flipped upside down a long while back.
What if God invites us to treat every forgotten one like that? Like king or a queen?
A few weeks ago, when I discovered that I would be baptizing the two-year old son of Grossmont High School juniors, I was worried for them. When I visited their humble home in Lemon Grove for the baptismal preparation class and met the two sixteen-year old kids-turned-parents, I felt more worried for them. I could tell that, even years after this miraculous birth, as every birth truly is, the newly-made and quite young grandmother wasn’t too impressed by the whole situation, either. We knew life would not be easy for this boy and his parents; there surely would no lunchtime bell-ringing at Westminster Abbey as there was for the second birthday of Prince George this year.
Yet the new parents have stayed in school — there’s apparently childcare on the high school campus — and the young mother is planning on going to cosmetology school after graduation. She has hope of thriving someday. It is a tender and vulnerable hope to cherish, particularly for the child of Mexican immigrants. And even on the days when that hope is far from her heart she will still have a baby to raise who, when he is older, will cherish a tender and vulnerable hope, too.
I can’t help but be excited for her and for him, despite the arduous path ahead. Life has a way of taking over, and flipping our world upside down.
The Rev Colin Mathewson